The National Security Agency (NSA), which has come under fir recently for its controversial surveillance and bulk data collection programs, apparently collects less than one third of all phone data, a lower number than what was previously estimated.
The latest information comes courtesy of two publications - The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
"The National Security Agency is collecting less than 30 percent of all Americans' call records because of an inability to keep pace with the explosion in cellphone use, according to current and former U.S. officials," per The Washington Post.
The Wall Street Journal puts the figure even lower. "The National Security Agency's collection of phone data, at the center of the controversy over U.S. surveillance operations, gathers information from about 20% or less of all U.S. calls-much less than previously thought, according to people familiar with the NSA program," per the WSJ.
The information is in contradiction to the popular perception that the U.S. government is keeping tabs on and collecting virtually all domestic phone data. Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, apparently the NSA gathers all metadata on ever phone call that is made from, in or to the U.S.
According to The Washington Post, which cites a senior U.S. official as its source, in 2006, the NSA was gathering "closer to 100 percent of Americans' phone records from a number of U.S. companies under a then-classified program." However, in summer 2013, the figure fell to less than 30 percent.
According to the WSJ, the inability of the government to keep pace with the national growth in mobile phone usage and the reduced use of landlines has led to the swindling coverage. Per the publication's sources, the NSA does not collect records for most cellphones as the agency is unable to keep pace.
"Landlines are going away, and new providers are entering the field," said one person familiar with the program, to WSJ. "It's hard to keep up."
The declining coverage would hint that the NSA program is not as pervasive as previously believed. However, NSA officials are looking to seek court authorization to extend their coverage of mobile phone providers. Currently, the bulk data collection program does not cover Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, per the Wall Street Journal.
"The government is taking steps to restore the collection - which does not include the content of conversations - closer to previous levels. The NSA is preparing to seek court orders to compel wireless companies that currently do not hand over records to the government to do so, said the current and former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations," reveals The Washington Post.
An NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told the WSJ that the agency will not "discuss specific intelligence collection methods," and it was "always evaluating our activities to ensure they are keeping pace with changes in technology."